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New Carving "waipi'o"

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Aloha everybody,


This is something I just finished after taking too many months off from carving. It is carved from one piece of cow bone.


I always wondered what it would be like to carve something with free links in it. There's a real learning curve to it. I think it's pretty sturdy. Wore it around for a couple of days. Put some mana into it. Also, to see if it would break. I didn't push any trucks out of the mud, or hug any heavy file cabinets to my chest or anything, which I don't think this piece would have lived through. But it hung in there alright.


The name refers to Waipi'o Valley, a big valley on my island. The house where I was raised looks right down into the backside of it. It means "circling water", not as in a whirlpool but as in the timeless cycle of precipitation, irrigation, evaporation, condensation, and then all over again, round and round.


Thanks for looking,




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Thanks guys,


Christophe I never did use those kinds of things but only read about them here. One day soon maybe. Iʻm nervous about trying new things. My teacher Stacy Gordine used a dye called Dylon, and the color was Havana Brown. But after he went back to NZ we used up what he left us pretty quick and it seems impossible to find outside the UK. But I downloaded Tom Sterlingʻs e-book on Netsuke Carving (and speaking of which, I believe Mr. Sterling deserves much thanks) and thatʻs where I learned about a dye called Procion. I ordered the colors he recommended (theyʻre back at the shop right now and I donʻt remember their names, but there was a brown, a yellow, a red, a blue and a black) and you can mix them.


The Procion is really aggressive compared to the Dylon though. With the Dylon we would completely cover the piece and then let it totally dry. We would even dab on extra if we thought it wasnʻt covered enough. Then we would run it under the tap and kind of rub it in our fingers and the areas of smooth bone would come almost clean, just a nice thin shade over the bone color. The carved or textured ares would accept and retain the brown as you might expect.


But the Procion is different. It grabs on and doesnʻt seem to want to let go! The first time I used it was on a test piece and lucky I did. I let it dry like we used to do with Stacy and it was like I had painted it. Now I wash it off almost immediately and it still penetrates really fast. I got lucky on this one. It came out with a nice result but the design maybe can handle it. The last piece I posted here, the Moʻo Wahine, thereʻs no way I was going to take a chance with this stuff. Stacy told me well youʻll never know and Iʻm thinking yeah youʻre right Iʻm happy with her the way she is.


The Procion has a tendency to grab on to really unexpected areas, like places that are smooth, sanded down to 12,000 grit micro mesh smooth, itʻs like a crap shoot. But the color can be really rich, and when it works itʻs very nice. Maybe I can post some examples of ones that worked well and others that, I wouldnʻt say didnʻt work well, but was definitely unexpected.


Whoo boy long answer!


Thanks though, fellas...

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Please use caution when working with Procion dyes. Read and follow the warning labels. In my literature about it from quite a while ago, it is considered non toxic, but could cause allergic reactions. And with the knowledge that it is extremely potent and made to stain and dye things, work with gloves on and when working with the powders, wear a face mask. Also, work where it does not matter when any grains of dye might escape your control. I have an enduring little spot on one of the carpet remnants in my studio and on the work bench.


Tom, have you tried diluting the dye mixtures to be not so strong? Do you test the mixtures on prepared test pieces of bone before committing your carving to the dye?


Other thoughts come to mind that might be helpful to folks who wish to color the carved materials:


When I wish to stain mammoth tusk ivory, for instance, I create a test piece that came from the same part of the tusk that the carving came from. It gets polished, textured, etc., to the same degree as the carving. It is big enough to try more than one test on it, usually.


Prior to putting the test and/or the carving into the stain, I clean the piece with acetone or denatured alcohol and wear barrier gloves to keep from getting oils from my fingers on the piece. When dry, then the tests can commence.


If I want to enhance the penetration of the color, a brief immersion into acetic acid, with a rinse in clean water. This opens the glossy surface microscopically which helps to hold onto the stain.


Being aware of the amount of time the piece is immersed in the acid, stain or dye is important. On the test piece, I actually start with just the tip, then in x number of seconds it goes in a little further, repeating that for what ever interests me for results. I also do the brief acid etch on half of the test piece that way, so that when the stain/dye test is made, that both etched and simply polished parts go in simultaneously.


Other variables besides immersion time can be whether or not the stain/dye is cold or hot; whether or not to rinse after immersion, and there can be more, but I won't go on.


On bone, the unequal coloration may be due in part to not quite polishing the same everywhere, which is quite a challenge to do with intricate loops and openings. It may also be due to residual fats in the bone, though this is not part of my realm of experience (still waiting to do my first bone piece). I wonder if the acetone or denatured alcohol might help pull some of that away from the polished surface prior to the coloration?


Might it help to do a very light submersion into the stain/dye mixture at first to see if there are areas that need further polishing or tending to before committing to the darker staining?


Good luck with it as you move forward.



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Janel as always I appreciate your thoughtful advice. I havenʻt had any adverse effects from the Procion dyes as far as my health goes, but Iʻll keep it in mind. Youʻve given me a lot to ponder regarding learning how to control and predict this very powerful product. I know the time it would take to gather the data would be worth it when I consider how much time it takes to make some of these pieces. And I know Iʻm at the lower end of the spectrum compared to the time you and others on the forum spend on your work.


The information in your post above I think will serve me and others very well in future projects. Thanks again.


And as far as your speculation on the fatty nature of the cow bone, Iʻve thought the same thing before also. I imagine the same systematic approach in preparing the bone should be used as that which you described in getting ready to dye it. Thereʻs so much more to all this than just carving!

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Hello Tom,


You are right. Think of all of the many decisions and movements that we do as we carve something. The steps that one learns about coloring is just another step along the way towards concluding a piece. The newness and unfamiliarity of it makes it seem bigger challenge at first for me at least. My anxiety level always goes up when facing making a permanent change to something that has involved hours of carving in it. That is why I test things, to practice and to help make informed choices. It is still scary for me though to commit a piece to its final processes.


Thank you. I also apologize, I have a tendency to dump a lot of information once I start writing a response. Maybe it is part of getting older and trying to remember processes.


I have been away from using the Procion colors for a while, but still have them around. I liked mixing colors to make various kinds of warm browns, though I have other colors than brown to choose from.


Maybe you could offer an opinion... I prepared some cow bone back in the mid 90's when I shifted from carving porcelain to carving wood. I intended to try the bone, but the work in wood took off at a gallop, and that bone still waits. I scrape it from time to time, and it is getting to be time to scrape it again. Do you have any idea if the bone may still be okay for carving having been prepared so long ago?


Tom, I just took a cruise through your web site and greatly admire what you do.



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Thanks Janel,


I'm glad you had a chance to visit the website. I appreciate you taking the time and offering your nod of approval. It means a lot to me, coming from you. No kidding.


In my opinion it's probably fine to start working on that piece of bone again.


I guess the issue is about the longevity of the piece. This June I will have been carving for only three years. I've never owned a piece of bone jewelry (or any jewelry) before I made one myself. I don't have first hand knowledge of what effects various factors will have on bone over time. But I don't think I have to. The knowledge I have on the subject comes from my teacher and before that from his. Like this old cowboy once told me: "A smart man learns from his mistakes. A smarter man learns from others'"


My teacher had us get our bones fresh from the butcher and scrape them ourselves. He said not to get the kind from the fields because the sun makes them brittle, which is too bad because around here there's no shortage of former cows lying around all over the place.


We soaked them overnight in water that was just as hot as our hands could stand, but no hotter. He said that when bones are boiled that makes them brittle too. Which is also too bad because I would take home those fat shank bones every time I ordered osso bucco.


I know there are those who would disagree with what he told us about the sun and the boiling. I tend to take my teacher at his word. Like the tests you described above with the dyes, a true test of these factors would have to be tightly controlled, would take years to have any meaning, and preferably would not involve a piece that I spent dozens of hours carving. I would go with that which was handed down to me. I don't need thirty years of sobriety to not drink today. I just need to do what those before me have done.


That's why I think, as long as the bone wasn't boiled or found out in the pasture, you should be good. I was thinking too about what you said about the residual fats and what not. If the bone was cleaned and prepped right away from the butcher, so much the better as far as how it takes the dye when it's done carving. I don't believe it would affect its strength at all, but for sure its coloration.


Anyways, I'm glad Christophe asked about the color and I'm glad you (Janel) talked about the Procion because it got me thinking about everything involved besides the carving and how much more I have to learn and how grateful I am for all the help available on this forum.





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Hello Tom,


Thank you for sharing what you have learned from your mentor about bone and preparation of it. It sounds more like a gentle and respectful approach rather than the harshness of sun or the boiling pot. I can imagine that that sort of hot water would do very well at melting fat without cooking and changing the organic bone structure.


Well, I decided to take action on the long avoided step of carving the prepared bone. I launched into carving something as if it were tusk or antler. I am not ready to share photos of it, but will do so if it survives what I am doing with it. It is a very interesting experience to undergo. It is different and yet similar to tusk and antler (and it smells similarly) , but I think that it is more porous in a microscopic way. More to learn about that as the experience continues. The sense I have about this may relate to carving wood in some way. Though there is not much evidence of a grain to the bone, there is a difference felt by the tools as they work in various directions. And as with wood, I wonder if messing with the grain by going in a direction might cause a little more openness might also make a greater chance of uneven coloring, even after fastidious sanding to the highest grits. My experience is not there yet, and I am unsure about color with my first piece, but I am thinking about the whole scenario as I carve.


There are so many different approaches to everything, it is not possible for me to say that there is only one way to do something. Each outcome or goal for each individual may differ from that of the others, and the approaches to attaining the goals, whether materials, their preparations, their tools, all will result in differences with similarities. For someone who appreciates the pure whiteness of bone, there are ways to achieve that. For those who like the fat absorbed into the bone and for what it offers the look of a piece, there are ways to achieve that as well. It is kind of like making pottery, do I use porcelain or do I use stoneware to make the next pots; or do I use boxwood or ebony for the next wood piece? Sorry, I am wandering off course here... there are becoming too many good choices before me today. I just need to leave the computer and go to the carving bench before much more time passes. My apologies.




PS Perhaps looking at the centuries old bone carvings would yield an answer to the longevity of bone for being carved. If they have survived the years, perhaps the prepared bone is okay over the decades as well. It is just ready and waiting. (..waiting in the dark of a cupboard to see the daylight)

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